From the Grounds Up
Will Uzzell is the field manager at Republic School District in Republic, Missouri. The district has nine athletic fields, which Will manages with the help of just one part-time mower. All but one of the fields are natural turfgrass. They’re home to the district’s football, soccer, baseball, softball, and even lacrosse teams.
Uzzell never expected to be a field manager. Previously a third-generation union carpenter, he worked as a project manager on the construction of the district’s new high school. Once the project was complete, the district offered him a job. He decided it was a good time for a career change, especially as construction work was slowing due to the recession.
The construction of the school included new fields, but the district didn’t have anyone to take care of them. Will recognized the need, showed interest, and became the district’s first field manager. Coaches no longer had to worry about maintaining their fields on top of other responsibilities.
What Uzzell lacked in knowledge of the job, he made up for in determination. “I don’t have a degree in turf management, but I have work ethic,” he shared. “And I always say, if you have work ethic, then just surround yourself with knowledgeable people. And that’s what I’ve done.”
When his previous distributor rep left the company without warning, Uzzell’s first call was to Brian Winka from Advanced Turf Solutions. Winka, a sales rep at the time, helped Uzzell quickly secure the products he still needed for the upcoming season. That urgent order was just the beginning of what has become a strong partnership between Republic Schools and ATS.
Winka provided the expertise Uzzell needed so he could continue to maintain all eight fields at a high level. “I didn’t have to spend time trying to learn about the science of the grass,” said Uzzell. “You know, I have Brian. If I have a problem, if I have something that looks weird, I call Brian. And that’s amazing, absolutely amazing.”
“He has changed my field world,” Uzzell said. The changes began with grass variety. After discussing some ideas with Winka, Uzzell started slowly introducing Advanced HGT bluegrass into his bermudagrass fields for a “bluemuda” blend. He began the process with the softball field and a practice soccer field.
After two years, he was sold and started transitioning the other fields to bluemuda. All but two of Uzzell’s fields are now bluemuda. The two remaining bermudagrass fields don’t have the proper irrigation systems to maintain bluemuda, which Uzzell has found the key to its success.
In addition to bluemuda, Winka helped Uzzell establish fertilizer and pesticide programs to maintain healthy fields. His program includes Armament technology, which helps enhance the nutrients he’s applying. From seed and fertilizer to pesticides and infield products, ATS has become Uzzell’s go-to for all his field needs.
Uzzell’s hard work for the district hasn’t gone unnoticed. “The compliments have just been pouring in,” he said. “And when I first started all this, it was nothing but complaints. They were typical coaches. They complained about everything. Now I give them very little to complain about.” The improved field quality now sets Republic apart in the area, which school administrators also appreciate.
“As soon as we started off this year, the new principal of the high school sent out an email to the administration and, of course, CC’d me so I could read it—saying how amazing the baseball field was and all the other fields and how we were so much better than all the other districts that we go to and all this stuff.”
As for those other districts, their field managers sometimes call Uzzell with questions. They’ve seen his success and want advice on similar projects at their facilities. Like many in the industry, Uzzell is happy to share the lessons he’s learned over his 13 years on the job.
He shares one piece of advice often: “You just need good work ethic, and you don’t have to know every aspect of the grass and the fields. Just surround yourself with good people and just put your work in. You’ll get the results.”
For Uzzell, those “good people” have included Brian Winka and Brock Phipps, a newer ATS sales rep who now assists with Uzzell’s account. It turns out that the value of teamwork applies to those maintaining the fields just as much as it does to those playing on them. Building from the ground up, Uzzell has achieved a level of field quality that makes the entire Republic School District community proud.